How to Meal Plan

by Katrina - The Organised Housewife

Meal planning is something I have done for as long as I can remember.  I meal plan weekly, I attempted to do it monthly but find weekly works best for my family.  There are so many different benefits to meal planning which I have shared previously, read more about benefits to meal planning here.  It’s one of the key elements that keep my evenings stress free.

I put my meal planner printable in a frame, you can read more about this here and write the plan directly onto the glass, the following week I wipe it off and start again. On a Saturday evening while watching TV or Sunday morning while having my coffee I write out the meals I would like to cook for the week, write up my shopping list, then go do my grocery shopping.  Once home I chop up all the fruit and veg into containers, read more about why I do that here.

Two of my favourite benefits to meal planning

Saves my Sanity – 5pm on a busy weekday evening I don’t have to wonder what to cook the family,  I have it already planned, with groceries stocked in the fridge and all I need to do is make it.  Also, if I happen to be out late with the kids, hubby can look on the planner and make dinner… no excuses why he can’t!!

Saves time – Planning meals and doing one big grocery shop for the week eliminates the need to have to drop into the grocery store every day or two to pick up food for dinner, which then usually results in buying other food which you may not need.

Meal Planning 101

Set aside time – Meal planning doesn’t take too long, it’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.  Set aside 10-15 minutes to meal plan:  while having your morning coffee, watching TV or could be when the pasta is boiling on the stove.

Clean out your fridge – Before I start to meal plan I look inside my fridge, freezer and pantry and see what foods I could use within my plan.  While I’m there I also give it a tidy and clean so it’s ready for when I bring the groceries home.

Have your meal planning tools on hand – Either using one of my (fabulous!!) meal planners or a note pad, jot down the days of the week and write what meals you would like the family to eat this week.

Be inspired – I share my meal plans weekly, they are there to help you with ideas when creating your own plan.  You will find more recipe inspiration on other blogs, recipe websites, pinterest, your favourite chefs websites/apps or even in cookbooks or magazines.

Plan around the weekly specials – Create meals based on the specials at your grocery shop, eg.  Lamb is half price, then make a lamb stirfry instead of beef.

Think ahead – Make double meals so you don’t have to cook the following night, or you could place a meal in the freezer for a busy night the following week.  Make a double batch of potato mash so you can use it for meat and 3 veg tonight, and the left overs on the shepherd’s pie the following night… save yourself time, this is the beauty of meal planning!

Rotate family favourites – Meals don’t have to be something new every night.  We have a lot of meat and 3 vegetable dishes, because they are quick, easy and the family like them.  Spaghetti Bolognese and mexican are my kids favourites so we make them a regular every few weeks.

Easy dinners are OK – Meals don’t need to be extravagant and time consuming, often we have scrambled eggs on toast for dinner, occasionally we may have Sunday Roast night, but can also be something quick and easy like toasted sandwiches.

Theme your meals – This strategy really helped me when I started meal planning.  I assigned a type of meal for a specific day of the week, Mondays were casseroles or oven bakes (as I was able to make these in the afternoon, pop in the fridge, go off to afternoon sport and easily heat in the oven when we got home).  Tuesdays were stir fry, Wednesday slow cooker (as we had sport again and having the meal cooking away and ready when we got home was appreciated), Thursday Meat and 3 veg, Friday … you get the idea.  Consider the regular events in your diary and determine what type of meal suits those evenings.

Meal planning is not limited to dinners, you can also plan lunch as well.  Read more about lunchbox planning here.

Do you Meal Plan, what is your best meal planning tip?

I look forward to sharing the first of my 2014 meal plans with you next week!

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Grace February 10, 2014 - 6:53 AM

I just wrote a post on meal planning too!
I use a table in my iPad as it’s easy to switch around the days.
My tip would be shop specials, your local farmers market AND your own pantry,
It’s great to have regular meals but try something new each week, that way you’ll be able to add more meals to your rotation!
Here’s my post:

Katrina February 13, 2014 - 5:11 PM

Great tips, thanks Grace!

Julia K February 10, 2014 - 9:44 AM

I too have been meal planning FOREVER – such a sanity saver. I have a mini blackboard in my kitchen and always write what’s for dinner which saves the seemingly endless questions from the kids. I try and rotate everyone’s favourites but have made it clear to my kids that it’s not always going to be your most favourite meal but whatever it is – that’s it – they are expected to eat it.
My almost 10 year old son was sitting down with his sisters for afternoon tea the other day (a fruit kebab, yoghurt and a homemade muffin). He had left his banana announcing that he didn’t like banana anymore. I responded with – “that’s news to me – – you’ve always eaten banana in the past”. I advised that since I had been good enough to shop for the food, prepare it lovingly and present it for him to eat – the very least he could do was eat it ! He ate the banana ( it was only 2 small pieces ). Kids !!

Katrina February 13, 2014 - 5:10 PM

Kids! is about right 😉

Smaggle February 10, 2014 - 10:27 AM

Planning meals makes sense I guess when you have a family but I’m out so many nights in the week I can never plan meals! Should start trying though.

Katrina February 13, 2014 - 5:09 PM

Yes, it’s great for families.

Octavia Vaughan February 10, 2014 - 11:30 AM

I’ve taken it to a slightly nerdy level – I’ve set up a spreadsheet with all our favourite meals and ingredients so all I have to do is select the meals for the week and it gives me my shopping list. This really helps because hubby and I are trying to “diet” and do healthier meals whereas the kids are really fussy and tend to prefer spag bol, fish fingers etc.

Gab February 10, 2014 - 12:40 PM

That’s awesome! Would you be willing to share your template?

Octavia Vaughan February 10, 2014 - 2:56 PM

I would love to share it but like I said above, it’s a bit messy at the moment unless you’re an excel expert (which I’m not, I just know what works for me)

Anonymama February 10, 2014 - 1:17 PM

Octavia I would love to know more about your spreadsheet, that is the kind of thing that I have been wanting except I’m not computer literate enough to be able to create one. Did you write it up yourself?

Octavia Vaughan February 10, 2014 - 2:10 PM

I did write it myself, and it’s working really well for me but involves a bit of manual configuration each week so I’m not quite ready to share it yet. When I learn a bit more about excel and how to automate it for someone who doesn’t know about pivot tables, I’ll share it.

Jodie Essex February 15, 2014 - 3:56 PM

pepper plate is a good app and website for recipes, meal planning and it creates a shopping list all in one.

Katrina February 13, 2014 - 5:08 PM

Haha, I love it!!

Kris February 10, 2014 - 12:35 PM

I love meal planning and display it on the fridge for all the family to see. I also have a section at the bottom called ‘Next Week’. We use this for if someone has a request/suggestion for a meal, or we notice we have a lot of something (eg I stocked up on mince the other week and we need to use some up out of the freezer) we put up an idea for next week’s plan. Sometimes when I go to do the planning it’s all but done, with 4 or 5 suggestions up there ready to go!! Yay 🙂

Octavia Vaughan February 10, 2014 - 2:58 PM

I like your “Next week” idea. I try to make a note of pre-made meals that I have in the freezer so I remember to use those up as well. Spag Bol I always make in bulk (eg 2kg mince) so I have heaps in stock in the freezer.

Shelley Knox February 10, 2014 - 8:18 PM

Omg. I’m one week into using an APP from the App Store called Food Planner. It cost $1.99 after a short free trial and does what you mentioned above automatically. It’s awesome!

Octavia Vaughan February 10, 2014 - 8:44 PM

That sounds pretty cool, I’ll have to check it out.
I spoke to hubby about my spreadsheet tonight and he had a brilliant idea to make it easier so I might not be too far off sharing it. 🙂

Jo February 11, 2014 - 7:59 PM

I love the “Next Week” suggestions!! Great idea.

Katrina February 13, 2014 - 5:07 PM

Very clever!!

MellyDG February 10, 2014 - 9:42 PM

Love your theme of the day idea. Have been meal planning for years now and think it’s the only way to go. However my husband sometimes complains of the lack of variety in our meals. I finally decided to do something about his complaints (besides telling him to cook for a change!) this year. I’ve created a list of all our ‘usual’ meals (list A) and a second list of 20+ recipes taken from various cookbooks of recipes we’d like to try (list B).
Now when I sit down to plan I make sure to take 1 meal from list B while the rest are from list A. Makes the shopping list almost a no-brainer.

Katrina February 13, 2014 - 5:07 PM

That’s a fantastic idea!! I bet he’ll be happy with that 🙂

Sharon February 10, 2014 - 11:48 PM

I have a white board on my pantry wall and write up the week’s dinners and also my planned baking for the week. I base my meals on the primary ingredient. For example, Tuesday/Beef Mince, Wednesday/Chicken, Thursday/Pasta. Friday/Fish etc.

Katrina February 13, 2014 - 5:06 PM

That’s a great method!

Ren Shen February 12, 2014 - 8:49 AM

I’m not an organised person but have decided to try! I need some tips on freezing. Right now my freezer is a mass of processed crap mainly that all needs throwing out. I sometimes freeze leftover curry etc in zip lock bags but I really need advice on how to freeze my baking, other foods. The best containers/bags to use and how to pack the food. How to defrost – microwave/in fridge/on bench. I really am clueless but my weeks are so busy that I think freezing stuff is the only chance I have of being organised and getting the family eating healthily again. Help!!!

Katrina February 13, 2014 - 5:06 PM

I just recently shared how I organise my fridge and freezer, which might help you:

Samantha Watkins February 15, 2014 - 10:34 AM

Wow thank you so much, I read this yesterday while bubs was sleeping and I was on it. Made the fruit leathers whilst getting my planning on!! I now have a cool frame just like yours, the kids have all helped with the types of meals they like, I have written a shopping spreadsheet which has all my regular things I buy and spaces for additional for the fridge to just tick what I need. Im ready and raring to go, I’ve been meaning to do meal planning for ages but your post got me going so thank you for that, hubby and 4 kids are slightly more organised now than before 🙂

Katrina February 17, 2014 - 10:18 AM

You are onto it Samantha, great work!! And you will find that in your spreadsheets that if you rotate your meal plans every few weeks your spreadsheet will be all ready to go, no extra work!!

Suzanne February 21, 2014 - 2:02 PM

Have just got back into meal planning after a break of a few years…and am finding it great again, especially with my husband working nights (we do the main meal for lunch). I also have done a spreadsheet shopping list, with regular purchases divided into catergories (eg pantry, fridge/freezer etc), which I printed off and laminated…all I need to do is just tick off items or add during the week and then take shopping. I also used the catalogue to check out grocery specials and planned some meals around that.

Katrina February 25, 2014 - 5:52 PM

That’s a fabulous idea Suzanne, I can imagine how helpful that is! Katrina Springer
The Organised Housewife

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